In 2001, the members of powerhouse Christian band dc Talk went their separate ways into solo projects. Michael Tait started a rock band and eventually joined the Newsboys. Kevin Michael McKeehan became "TobyMac," and Kevin Max charted a path all his own. Owner of the haunting high vocals that often made dc Talk music pop so much, Kevin Max was always one of the more intriguing aspects of dc Talk. This remained true for his solo debut. As it turns 20, we take a look back at this oft overlooked debut album, and the solo path Max has blazed since.
Much of dc Talk's appeal was the harmonies of the band's three very distinct vocalists. Kevin Max's higher pitched vocals gave any song he sang in an instantly memorable quality. His vocals soared above the music and added a very artistic veneer to anything they touched. So it is with Max's solo releases. Far from standard pop/rock fare, these tunes explored varied sonic space and struck out in a more artsy direction. It shouldn't be surprising then that these songs didn't quite have the commercial impact that the debuts of Tait and TobyMac did. Even the very titles of these songs gesture at a deeper and more artistically driven record. "Return of the Singer" givs listeners a first look at the varied and hard-to-label career of Kevin Max, with it's frenetic rock beat and uncanny melodies.
Songs like "Existence" offer Max's take on a radio single, with haunting melodies that most resembles his work with dc Talk, but which still offer a darker and more somber package for Max's soaring choruses. The reflective "Be" can be viewed as the thesis of the album, encouraging listeners to be themselves and push back against the world's expectations.
Even the album's hidden track "You" proves to be worth your time, with a worshipful pop/rock chorus that demands to be uncovered.
Kevin Max was always the poet of the dc Talk posse. Their albums tended to conclude on one of Max's spoken word performances. With more artsy titles like "Alas, My Love" and "There is a Treason At Sea," the cuts stood out in their respective tracklists before listeners even heard them.
It should come as no surprise, then, that a few such tracks are included in Max's debut. Even amidst artsy titles, these titles still stand out. "Union of the Soul" and "I Went Over The Edge Of The World" add interesting beats to the album's momentum, giving the listener a chance to breathe between Max's classic rock inspired outings. It also gives listeners a chance to hear Max's poetic expressions outside the lens of his soaring musical framework.
The Path Forward
Of all the members of dc Talk, Kevin Max's solo journey since has been the most prolific. Especially in the past few years, it seems like Max is coming out with new music at least once a year. He's played in styles ranging from progressive rock to show tune covers to a Larry Norman tribute album just this past year. He even did a 1-album stint as the frontman of Audio Adrenaline.
And yet, with only a few exceptions here and there, his solo path has also been the most niche. He doesn't have hits constantly atop Christian charts like Tait and Toby have had in their respective bands. His music also has the most mainstream lyrics, mixing more blatant faith based songs with more relationship and existential musings. He's also waded into his fair share of controversy.
But for all of this, his artistic presence has always made him an admirable figure in Christian music. While much of the industry swings for their next safe radio hit, Kevin Max is constantly trying new things and you just never know what he might do next. In that regard, he's one of the industry's more authentic artists.
As his debut album hits the 20 year mark, take a look back at the first step of his winding solo journey.
J.J. Francesco is a long-time contributor to the NRT Staff. He's published the novel 'Because of Austin' and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community. He is currently working on releasing a brand new novel.
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